I’m in a hotel room in California this week, working hard to put my book The Emotionally Destructive Relationship in audiobooks. I’d appreciate your prayers. Reading an entire book into a tape recorder is not as easy as it sounds, and there are lots of mistakes and do-overs, even when you’re the one who wrote the book. But it’s been good for me to reread the book. There are some things that I said in that book that I need to refresh and bring up front again. I haven’t talked about this much lately, but there are two chapters in this book on the heart issues that are at the root of all destructive relationships. The proud heart, the angry heart, the envious heart, the lazy heart, the selfish heart, the evil heart, and the fearful heart. Working on outward behavior without addressing the inward heart motives, only helps someone become more covert in their abusive tactics. Jesus tells us again and again; it’s from the heart that we do what we do.
Today’s Question: My husband’s brother and wife have severely wronged my family. I am filled with so much resentment toward them. I can’t stand to be in their presence. But sometimes I have to be. I know I need to let go of my hatred and resentment, but I don’t want them just to think everything is okay between us. How can I be present at required family gatherings without being a hypocrite?
Answer: I think the most significant emotional wounds come from those we thought were friends. King David struggled with this kind of pain in Psalm 55 when he cried out, “It is not an enemy who taunts me – I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me – I could have hidden from them. Instead, it is you – my equal, my companion and close friend.”
Let me break up your question into two parts. The first part is to look at what this sin against you is doing to you. The apostle Paul encourages us: “Do not be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Evil was done TO you. But don’t allow your feelings of anger over what happened to fester. If you do, it will infect you with its poison, and you will become full of bitterness, resentment, and hatred. You may feel entirely justified feeling what you feel, but when you get stuck here, you’ve allowed Satan a foothold into your life and heart (Ephesians 4:27).
Overcome is not passive. It’s a fighting word. It is active, something we must do so that we will never be eternally injured by evil despite being wounded by it. Satan may have gotten hold of your brother-in-law and his wife, but don’t let him get a hold of you.
I’d encourage you to journal and pray to God (as David often did in the Psalms) when your angry, bitter feelings overwhelm you. I’d also encourage you to choose to forgive, rather than waiting on your feelings to feel like it. Choose to forgive even if those who sinned against you never ask for forgiveness. Why? Because forgiveness releases the toxins of hatred, bitterness, and resentment from your soul and body. Forgiveness alone doesn’t necessarily restore a relationship, especially when there has been no repentance on the part of the one who harmed you, but it does release you.
Your second question is also essential. You do not want to be misleading your family members into thinking the relationship with your brother and sister in law has been restored just because you no longer feel resentful or angry toward them. I believe this is an essential issue. I find in working with people in destructive relationships one or the other finds it hard to let go of his or her anger because nothing has changed. We believe that hanging on to our anger communicates to the other person, “Things are not any better.” And for a season that may be important, but not for years and years. That only harms you.
May I suggest another way? Your words can serve that purpose better than your continued resentment. You could have a conversation or send a letter to your relatives saying something like this:
We have been severely hurt and financially impacted by what you have done to our family. We do not understand your reasons for the actions you took against us, but whatever the reasons are, they do not justify the pain you have caused. Our personal and family relationship has been broken, and we do not know how to repair it. Although we will make every attempt to be polite and civil during family meetings, please do not engage us in personal conversation. We are working hard to forgive you, but we do not trust you, nor do we desire to share personal information about our family with you.
We will continue to pray for you and your family.
In the Bible, Joseph was severely betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. He was falsely accused of rape and sent to prison. Joseph had every reason to be bitter and resentful long term, but he did not allow what other people did to him turn him into something evil. He overcame evil with good (See Genesis 37-45).
Joseph had no contact with his family for years after they sold him into slavery. When they came to Egypt seeking food during a famine in their own country, they had no idea that the person they were talking with was their brother, Joseph, though he immediately knew who they were. Joseph was gracious, even generous to his brothers, but he did not trust them. He remembered their treachery and did not make himself personally or emotionally vulnerable to them. It was only after a series of tests that Joseph finally revealed himself to them. He loved his enemies by helping them (as Jesus commands us to do), but he did not personally fellowship with them until he knew their hearts were different.
In the same way, there is no Biblical verse or command that requires we have a trusting fellowship with everyone, including relatives. Therefore, set up some boundaries that make clear the status of your relationship so that you no longer need to hold on to your resentment to communicate where you are at.
Remember, your resentment always hurts you far more than them. Let it go. Click To Tweet
Friends, Is it difficult for you to use words to communicate your boundaries with someone? How have you worked on that?